Dolphin Deaths Continue as Gov't Shutdown Impacts Research

The number of dolphin deaths along the Jersey Shore continues to rise. Last week alone, 14 dead dolphins washed up on New Jersey beaches, bringing the total number in the state to 125 since July. It’s part of a massive dolphin die-off that has stretched from New York to North Carolina.

“These animals are being submitted 24/7,” said Doctor Laura Coffee, a veterinary pathologist with the New Jersey Department of Agriculture. “Weekends, nights and the middle of the night.”

Coffee and her team have examined two dozen dolphins in just over a month. The creatures were trucked from Brigantine’s Marine Mammal Stranding Center.

Experts say many of the dead dolphins suffered from Morbillivirus, an ailment related to the measles. The same illness is also blamed for a similar dolphin epidemic in the 1980’s.

“The older animals that were immune to that virus are dying,” Coffee said. “We have a bunch of young and naïve animals that are kind of fueling this epidemic.”

As the deaths continue, researchers say federal authorities have stopped analyzing and disseminating data sent from state labs due to the government shutdown.

“We know what’s going on in our respective states,” Coffee said. “But in terms of the global picture, that’s kind of on hold.”

Coffee says the dolphin deaths could continue until the Spring. She also expects another epidemic in about 25 years.

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